This idea is both a consumer feature and a marketing opportunity

Imac-606765_1920We take it for granted that when we open our favorite ebook app it automatically jumps right into the last book we were reading. And while that’s handy, I’d like to see at least one other option when I open the app.

How about a reader-customized landing page? This page should be fully configurable, based exclusively on my particular interests. For example, we all have our favorite genres, topics and authors we like to follow. Let’s start off by allowing readers to place a widget on this landing page showing the top five bestsellers in their favorite category.

Another widget I’d love to see is a quick-and-easy way to grab samples of newly published (or upcoming) books in my preferred categories. So maybe a top five list again with a one-click-sample download button next to each cover.

Then there’s the social opportunity… I recently asked one of my good friends to tell me the best WWII books he’s read over the past few years. That was done through a combination of texting and email. How about adding a capability to this landing page so I can quickly find (or follow) my most trustworthy friends and answer that question right in the reader app? Both of us would have to opt in, of course, but what a great way to share and access highly relevant information, especially when it’s in such close proximity to the one-click sampling/buying process.

You’ve undoubtedly seen some of this functionality on your favorite retailer’s website or through their email marketing campaigns. That’s great, but sometimes I go to to buy dog food, not books, and my email inbox is already overflowing with other marketing messages. Frankly, I think I’ve become numb to all the sales pitches that hit my inbox every day. Now compare that to the time when I’m opening the Kindle or Google Play Books apps on my iPad; that’s when I’m focused on books, but not just reading…I’m often ready for book discovery when I launch those apps, so why not help me find what I might be interested in?

I also realize most of the time we might want to just leave well enough alone and continue jumping right back into that last book we were reading. Great, but how about placing a button in the app’s nav bar to quickly take me to this configurable landing page?

Another nice touch would be to let me customize the feeds by day and time. For example, if I’m opening it up during business hours I’m probably looking for work-related content. But let me also configure it to show sports and history lists and samples when it’s after 5PM or on the weekend.

You’d think that Amazon would already offer something like this in the Kindle app. All the other reader apps tend to follow their lead and since books now represent such a small slice of Amazon’s overall revenue it would be great to see some other ebook retailer step up and innovate with a service like this.

Kindle Instant Preview reinforces Amazon’s dominance

Screen Shot 2016-01-10 at 3.51.46 PMEbook preview widgets have been around for quite awhile but when was the last time you saw one on a blog or website? I can’t recall the last one I saw but I’ll bet that’s about to change.

Amazon recently released their Kindle Instant Previews widget and it does what its name suggests. In short, this tool makes it incredibly easy to embed or share an ebook sample on a web page or via email. The fact that it’s offered by the biggest ebook platform on the planet means it’s well positioned for success.

The sample below showcases the Kindle Instant Preview widget with one of my favorite books, The Innovator’s Dilemma.

It’s simple yet quite powerful. Most authors want to push their sales towards Amazon to help boost rankings there. Now authors will be able to place samples directly on their site, encouraging visitors to explore their content without ever leaving the site. Kindle Instant Preview also lets you add your Amazon Associates ID so you’ll be able to earn income from purchases generated by the widget.

As simple and effective as this widget is, there’s at least one key feature that’s missing. Some website visitors will have the time to read an entire sample while they’re on your web page but many won’t. The widget offers a “Read in Kindle App” button that opens the sample in the Kindle app on your device. I don’t want that though as I’ll probably discover the sample while browsing on my laptop but I don’t have (or want) the Kindle app installed on my laptop. Amazon, the king of “one-click buy” should add a “one-click send” option to push the sample directly to my Kindle app or maybe even my email inbox where I can read it later.

Given the popularity of free titles, especially the first one in a series of other paid titles, I’m wondering how liberal Amazon is with their definition of “sample.” Since the book is free I could see where an author might want to offer the entire book as the sample. If so, they could then enable visitors to read the entire book on their website. Again, that’s only for visitors who have the time to read an entire book on a website, but perhaps a few creative authors will find ways to encourage this sort of behavior.

No matter how this service evolves, one thing is clear: It only helps Amazon further increase the reach and dominance they already enjoy in the book industry.

When will ebook covers evolve?

I suppose that's a silly question, especially since ebooks themselves really haven't evolved yet. They're still basically "print under glass", quick-and-dirty conversions from print, so it's no surprise that the covers are still as static as the print books they're based on.

The current book cover was designed for the physical world, of course. It serves as a billboard on the shelf for those rare instances when the book is face-out in a store. Covers are intended to be as unique and memorable as possible, selling the key features of the product. But they're also designed to be a lot larger than ebook covers ever appear on screen. So what happens when a print book cover that's 6 X 9" is reduced to the size of a postage stamp? Details are lost, the selling impact is diminished and the branding impression is compromised.

As I scroll through the various category pages on Amazon I can read most of the titles, but almost all of the subtitles are unreadable. A better solution would be to automatically pop up a larger image of the cover as I mouse over each one. Btw, do you want to see a publisher who understands the challenges of branding with smaller cover images? Look at all the Lonely Planet product icons in iTunes. You'll see they use the same template across the entire library and each title is distinguished from the others with three large letters: The location's airport code. Brilliant. Yes, I know that's a very unique vertical market. My point is to show that you can create something unique and memorable, even when the real estate available is as small as an icon.

There's plenty of innovation yet to happen with the content of the book and I hope the same proves true for the cover. Why do covers have to remain static? As I mentioned above, why not have them auto-magnify when I hover over them? Maybe have that pop-up show not only a larger cover image but also a few more details (e.g., short description, quick breakdown of 5-star vs. 1-star reviews, etc.)? How about making those cover images flippable? Touch it and the cover flips to show that info I want in the magnified version, just like the back of a baseball card? Then make sure I can drag that object off the page and drop it onto my own website, with my review and/or affiliate code built into the resulting link.

There's so much more we can do with covers but, again, we need to stop looking at them as simply static, digital renderings of the print cover.

Fluidinfo CEO Terry Jones on API's & Why Publishers Should Offer Them

Publishers and authors obviously have a sense of how they intend their content to be used but what if there are other ways of accessing and consuming content that publisher and author didn't even consider? It reminds me of that great Henry Ford quote: "If I'd asked people what they wanted, they would have said 'a faster horse'." The point is sometimes we just don't know what we want. That's where exposing content via API's can help. As we talk about in this interview with Fluidinfo CEO Terry Jones, APIs enable developers to work with your content like a box of Legos, building solutions you may never have dreamed of. Key points include:

  • What's an API?  -- Just as user interfaces enable access to information by users, API's enable access to information by programmers.  [Discussed at :54]
  • The "read-only" model is not the future -- Publishers have grown accustomed to a one-way communication. We produce content but generally don't let users enhance or modify that content. That may have worked well in the print world but the digital world demands more. As Terry notes, the real world is "writeable." [Discussed at 5:15]
  • Publishers are just starting to recognize audience signals-- There's value in not only detecting these signals but acting on them. [Discussed at 10:55]
  • Reading has always been a social activity -- Much takes place in isolation but think about why page numbers exist, for example. [Discussed at 12:10]
  • How do you manage control in an open API access model?-- It's not as scary as you might think. There are plenty of control mechanisms that can and should exist when exposing your content via API's. [Discussed at 13:45]
  • Mobile changes everything -- Simple paywall access via a browser isn't the best solution. Mobile offers a completely new opportunity to distribute and monetize content...but it has to be done correctly, of course. [Discussed at 18:50] 
  • Why not just offer access via HTML5? -- HTML5 is a delivery good delivery mechanism but API's are more like offering a toolbox for building even more powerful solutions. [Discussed at 28:16]

Publishing Talk: Blog, Widget & Facebook

PubtalkPublishing Talk is the name of a blog I've subscribed to for quite awhile now.  Highly recommended.  My thanks to Krisan Matthews of The Publishing Curve blog for pointing out that Publishing Talk is much more than just a blog.  There's also a Facebook group as well as a discussion board.  And, I just added their feed widget to my own blog (look in the right panel).  If you've got a Facebook account you ought to join the group...and if you don't have a Facebook account you need to get one today!  When you get there, look me up and send me a friend invitation so we can build a strong publishing network.

The Wonderful World of Widgets

Cogs_2To paraphrase the famous line from The Graduate, "I've got one word for you: Widgets!"  If you need a nice reminder that widgets are the future, particularly in the world of content, read this article in this morning's USA Today.

Several book-oriented widgets currently exist but we're only scratching the surface of what can be done with this technology.  I use LibraryThing's widget on my blog.  If you hover your mouse over one of the covers in the left panel you'll find a link to that book on Amazon.  That's nice, but how about adding content access?  Wouldn't it be cool to add some functionality and have that same widget cycle through a few excerpts from the book?  Just hover over it and a pop-up appears showing a few sentences.  Want more?  Click on a set of horizontal arrows that will take you through all the excerpts the publisher wants to make available.

That's still pretty rudimentary.  How about making it more interactive and customizable?  Let's say I'm reading one of those books on a Kindle.  Shouldn't I be able to highlight a passage and have it added to the content I'm able to show via my widget?  Yes, the publisher would probably want to cap the amount of content someone could use for customized excerpts...or would they?

Better yet, let's say I'm reading that same book on my Kindle and I come across a paragraph I want to send to a friend.  With a few quick clicks I select the excerpt and send it off to them along with a note saying, "I immediately thought of you when I read this."  The excerpt shows up in your friend's e-mail in-box along with a cover image and link to buy the book.  Is there any better advertising than that?!

Take that last example a step further.  Let's say both of you are using the iRead app on Facebook.  One future option would be to enable your friends to post book excerpts and comments on Facebook.  So in the previous example, there would be a box you could check to automatically have this book, the excerpt and your comment posted on their Facebook page.

As the USA Today article notes, "there's no limit to what widgets can do."

Bookwrap Central

Bookwrap_2Here's a cool little service I stumbled upon this evening (thanks to the Big Bad Book Blog).  Bookwrap Central features video clips of authors talking about their book, what's unique about it, what inspired them, etc.

I like the idea but I have a hard time envisioning success as a standalone service.  If I'm looking to buy a book online I go right to the vendor (e.g., Amazon, B&N, etc.)  No matter how compelling the video content might be I'd almost never think to visit Bookwrap first.  And while you can buy directly off the Bookwrap site, they'll probably never have the breadth and depth of Amazon, for example.

Wouldn't this be a cool new feature for the online bookseller sites though?  I'd almost always click on a video or two as I'm making a purchase decision on an Amazon page, for example.  If you're annoyed by that sort of thing you would simply avoid clicking on the play button, but I'd get a lot of use out of it.

Widgets represent another excellent opportunity for this service.  I use the LibraryThing widget on my blog but the covers are fairly static objects on the screen.  I'd love to see LibraryThing integrate a video feature like this so that you could click on one of those covers and a small video screen would pop up with the author telling the story behind the book.

Amazon Widgets: What's Missing?

Amazon_blackI was glad to see that Amazon recently announced a collection of widgets that are ready for use on your blog or website.  The list includes some very useful tools and much of the functionality you'd expect from an Amazon widget.  I had one idea in mind and was all ready to install an Amazon widget to implement it on my blog.  The problem is it doesn't exist, at least not yet.

I was hoping Amazon would offer a widget that would display a list of 5 or 6 of the books I've reviewed on their site.  Covers would be displayed and as you hover over each one with your mouse a small pop-up window would appear and show the full text of my review.  No go.  This sort of widget wouldn't be that hard to create but I have no idea whether Amazon plans to offer one with this functionality.  I used their "What do you think?" link at the bottom of their widget page to suggest the idea.  I'll let you know what I hear back...

P.S. -- You could use the same widget to do some other cool things too.  For example, let's say you find another regular Amazon reviewer who you've grown to trust.  Why not feature their recommendations on your blog/website using the same widget?

Newspaper Widgets

Newspaper_stackNewspapers continue to see subscriber and advertising bases shrink but some are experimenting with news content distribution models.  This AP story was picked up by my local paper (The Indianapolis Star) today and is evidence that The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post are just three examples of papers that "get it" when it comes to widgets.

A critic could argue that there's no clear way to monetize this sort of model.  The optimist in me sees that these papers aren't content to sit on the sidelines and watch as their brands become even more marginalized.  So what if they can't make money right away?  As the article notes, at least they're getting their content in front of a much younger crowd, often the audience segment they're least likely to reach in print.

The irony in all this is that my local paper runs the story but offers no widgets for their own content distribution.  I'd like to feature a widget from The Indianapolis Star to give my blog a bit of a local feel to it but there are none to choose from.  OK, I'll bite...  I'm going to leave a comment about this on the Star's website to see if they respond...

edgeio's Paid Content Widget

EdgeioI'm always looking for new developments in the world of widgets.  I use a few on my own blog and I enjoy tinkering with ones I come across on other blogs.

edgeio is a company I hadn't heard of before, but this post about them on got my attention.  In a nutshell, edgeio is offering a widget that anyone can use to monetize their content.  The content can be straight text, downloadable files or streaming media.  The beauty is that you can leverage all the blogs and other websites that feature your widget. What's in it for those bloggers and website owners?  The edgeio widget includes an affiliate program so that bloggers and website owners can share in the revenue generated by the widget.  You'll find more details in this edgeio blog post.  Very cool.